Finland Teacher Tales Pt. 10: The Finnish teachers take performance enhancing drugs!

I have discovered the secret to Finnish education's superiority over Australia!! It can even be measured on a bar chart and everything!
They are coffee-chuggers! (Yep, Finland comes first again. And here’s the graph to prove it.)


Why is it that the staffroom here in Helsinki (or “teachers lounge” as they call it) is always filled at break times with happy, chatty, relaxed teachers enjoying a coffee? Whereas on the rare occasions I make it to the staffroom back home it is always near empty. Australian teachers are too busy to stop and take a decent break. There is not enough downtime in a year for all of us to each consume 11.9 kg of that magic brew to bring us up to par with the Finns.

Photo: Here I am enjoying a coffee while planning for lessons with Hans during his RFF time.

Photo: Here I am enjoying a coffee while planning for lessons with Hans during his RFF time.

Looking at other graphs now - from OECD PISA test results - we can see that Finnish 15 year olds clearly outperform Australian students in reading, maths and science.

Australia's plan for future educational success is to 'whip teachers harder' and 'start students earlier'. Finland does the opposite!

Back in 2012 Julia Gillard, feeling embarrassed at our 12th-placed international ranking, pledged that Australia will become a top 5 country like Finland by 2025. Read it here:…/e8b50819a2d70260d51570b4…

But that was when education started to go pear-shaped in Australia as we followed the US/UK model of placing heavy accountability and compliance measures upon teachers - and increasing the pressure on our students to improve their standardised test scores (to make the politicians look good). And this has been a distracting and draining process for classroom teachers ever since - with worsening outcomes for students.

But this is what should astonish and astound our Australian education ministers and policy makers: that Finland have achieved their level of success without standardised testing, without heavy-handed corporate-style time-consuming performance reviews of their teachers and... wait for it... with TWO YEARS LESS time in the classroom! When the 15 year old Finns sit down for their PISA tests every three years they have completed only nine years of compulsory schooling compared to Australia’s eleven! (And Finland's school days are one hour shorter!)

This is a big deal! This fact alone should jolt our leaders to stop and shake their collective heads and completely reconsider the way they conceive and implement education policy in Australia. The 'let's whip the teachers harder' and 'let's start the students earlier' policies have failed.

Coffee jokes aside, we should sincerely seek out whatever mysterious magic potion Finland is drinking and import it now!

I’ll keep searching for the magic while I'm here and get back to you.

In the meantime I suggest you re-name your school staffroom 'The Teachers Lounge'. You'll feel more respected and valued every time you say "I'm going to the Teachers Lounge".


And next time your coffee mug goes missing from "the teachers lounge" replace it with an 'I Love Helsinki' cup and start a conversation about what we could learn from how Finland does school.

James Phelps

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